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The Weird Week in Review

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470 Feet of Extension Cord Leads to Arrest

23-year-old Asher Woodworth was arrested in Bennington, Vermont while trying to steal the giant pepper off the roof of the local Chili's Restaurant. Three women who were acting as lookouts were also arrested. Police seized a hacksaw, power drill, and 470 feet of extension cords that were stretched over a parking lot, across the street, and plugged in at a Home Depot store. The four had been at the job for hours, and had once left to go get more extension cords. Apparently the group was not familiar with cordless power tools.

Snake with a Foot Found

A 16-inch snake was killed at a home in China and then found to have a foot growing out of its body! 66-year-old Dean Qiongxiu said she awoke to find the reptile clinging to a wall in her bedroom. She killed the snake with a shoe and when she saw the clawed foot, she put the body in alcohol to preserve it. It was taken to the Life Sciences Department at China's West Normal University in Nanchang for study.

They Removed the Scar Tissue and Read "Hamburger"

John Manley of Wilmington, North Carolina suffered frequent pneumonia and coughing spells for over a year before the real culprit was found. There was a jagged inch-long piece of plastic lodged in his left lung. It turned out to be part of a utensil from Wendy's Hamburgers. Manley was referred to a specialist at Duke University Medical Center for removal of the object, which was difficult because of the scar tissue that had formed around it. As the team worked, they uncovered letters that spelled out "hamburger".  Manley thinks he probably inhaled the plastic when he gulped a drink. He now drinks with a straw.

First Clown in Space

150spaceclownCanadian billionaire Guy Laliberte is paying $35 million to catch a ride to the International Space Station on a Russian spacecraft later this month. Cirque du Soleil founder Laliberte calls himself "the first clown in space." He plans to brings red noses for everyone on the space station and says he will wake the astronauts by tickling them.  Laliberte will also use his trip to raise awareness of world drinking water issues.

107-Year-Old Woman is Looking for 23rd Husband

107-year-old Wok Kundor has been married to her 22nd husband for years, but is now afraid he might leave her. 37-year-old Mohammed Boor Che Musa is currently in a drug rehabilitation program in Kuala Lumpur. Kundor is afraid he may be able to ind a younger wife and not come back to their small village in the Terengganu state of Malaysia.

If so, Wok has her eyes set on a 50-year-old man, but hopes it does not come to that.

"I realize that I am an aged woman. I don't have the body nor am I a young woman who can attract anyone," she told the newspaper.

Her current husband, however, told a newspaper that he still loves her.

New World Record Tallest Man

150kosenThe Guinness Book of World Records has certified that 27-year-old Sultan Kosen from Turkey is the world's tallest man. Kosen is eight feet and one inch tall! His height is due to pituitary gigantism caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. What does Kosen want to do with his new fame? First, he wants to find a car he can fit into, and he wants to get married if he can find the right girl.

Dog Crashes Car into Cafe

A dog named Wilco was left in a car in Cromwell, New Zealand while his owner went into a liquor store to pick up some beer. The unnamed man left the motor running, and Wilco jumped on the gear shift, which sent the vehicle crashing through the window of the nearby Fusee Rouge cafe.

"A lady from Mitre 10 ran through the doors and said 'did you know that your dog's just driven through the cafe doors'. So yeah, we popped out there and it was definitely right, it was sitting in the driver's seat," says Terry Fox, store manager.

Wilco and his owner were let go with a warning.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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